Ornithology, by Nicholas Royle, is a collection of sixteen short stories interwoven with recurring references to birds. Within each plot these avian creatures provide interest, distraction, disturbance. They, along with the human protagonists, are transformed into both predator and prey.
The stories explore ordinary situations and events, places and people. The characters go on holiday, form and break relationships, observe their surroundings from inside homes, rural locations, cities and at work. The locations are as much characters in the tales as the people. The prose radiates quiet menace.
The collection opens with Unfollow. Written in the first person it chronicles an obsession with a woman known only through Twitter and with whom there is little interaction. The narrator and their cat form a deadly pact to gain her attention.
In Murder a group of academics take a holiday together. Their relationship is tenuous having developed mainly through correspondence. The shadow of a couple who do not attend casts an eerie darkness over what should be straightforward diversions.
It is the recurring darkness that makes these stories so delicious to read. It is subtle, creeping through the cracks like an icy breeze.
Several of the stories veer into the surreal. There is violence, transformation, a stretching of possibilities and belief.
In The Nightingale the boundary between people and computers becomes blurred and a hacker takes advantage.
In The Lure, which is set in Paris, a young teacher struggles to translate more than simply spoken language. His minimal contact with others in the city leads him to pursue ill advised interactions, but is he stalker or victim?
Several stories use books to provide a theme that then spills out into action. A knowledge of the many bird species referenced may add further depth. I know little of such things which did not detract from my enjoyment. Throughout I remained engaged.
The writing is fluid and precise with a haunting undercurrent that at times manifests as horror but is more often suggestion. An uncanny, mesmerising read.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Cōnfingō.